Evaluating Reliable Vaccine Resources

You can't trust everything you read, and it's important to apply that rule of thumb whenever you hear or read about immunizations or vaccine safety.

The explosion of websites enables people to find out what strangers, celebrities and lay people have to say, and it's sometimes hard to distinguish fact from opinion. In fact, 45 percent of consumers reported that they trust blogs as sources of information (technorati.com), which isn't far off from friends' recommendations on Facebook (51 percent) or from magazines, news websites and print newspapers (about 60 percent each). When it comes to important health issues like vaccination though, talk to your doctor and sound expert sources -- including the New York State Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Immunization Action Coalition and the National Network for Immunization Information. By and large, legitimate medical associations and state and federal agencies have the most experience, expertise and resources to produce reliable, scientifically sound and fact-based information.

If you do come across a concerning article, ask yourself a few questions before becoming concerned about what the article is claiming. A single article is almost never definitive or conclusive. Science works because multiple people study the same subject from different angles and then develop a collaborative conclusion based on evidence. Given that nearly anyone today can broadcast their opinions and views on nearly any subject, including vaccine safety, make sure the information you're hearing or reading is indeed accurate. To be sure, things to ask yourself include:

Is the source a properly trained expert in the field he or she is commenting on?
Even if the person is a doctor, make sure he or she is commenting on a field they have expertise in.
Is the source peer-reviewed, meaning, is it agreed upon by multiple credentialed members of the same field?
One passionate and well-publicized source does not equate to accuracy. Before you believe someone's published report, make sure it has also been evaluated and confirmed by other experts to ensure there has been no error or misconduct in developing the findings. The recent damage caused by Dr. Wakefield's fraudulent claims is a good reason to be diligent about this.
Are the findings conclusive?
Make sure the study quoted followed all research protocals and resulted in statistically significant findings that are conclusive. These findings should also be peer-reviewed, as explained above.
Is the connection noted "causal" or "correlated"?
These are two very different findings. Don't let yourself get caught up on correlations. Correlated findings are only suggestive, and further research is necessary to determine if the two factors under investigation are truly related. Causal findings suggest the factors under study are actually related.
Was the sample large enough to provide stable and projectable data?
Once again, this is an area that is important to understand before becoming concerned. If a sample size is not large enough, the findings are not statistically sound and the same research could produce different results when conducted among a larger group. Small-sample research is often the first step in the learning process, but should not be the last.
Who funded the research and why?
As with anything, understanding the source helps frame how to interpret the information. Unfortunately, almost anything today can get published, whether it's from a sound and long-standing health organization, a concerned parent searching vigilantly for answers or a misguided doctor looking for attention and financial gain. Be careful and make sure you put your trust in long-standing organizations with a proven track record.

We've seen firsthand the damage done when people take unreliable information online and hyped in the media, as fact and then do not vaccinate. Recent measles outbreaks in Europe, as well as the rising incident of pertussis (whooping cough) in California, illustrate how quickly diseases can come back when people stop vaccinating.

For more information on how to evaluate reliable resources, visit: